Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sunday March 20, 12:20 p.m.

Well, here I am at Narita Airport, already just some metres away from my boarding gate, some 10 minutes before I was supposed to be showing up at the counter to check-in. There's something to be said about getting there early. Got up at the eye-blearingly time of 5 a.m. and out the door by 6:30 to get to the airport as soon as possible to avoid the much-dreaded chaos that The Dancer's family had apparently experienced when they left Japan on Friday afternoon.

However, what transpired was that I was able to get my travel insurance, my Canadian bucks and get checked-in a few hours before that 12:30 time. Not only that but I got through Immigration pretty quick as well, so I've ended up cooling my heels while I waited for the big board to finally give the gate number. Also had a McBreakfast as well. I can't complain about that situation and can only hope that the transit through Detroit will be as easy. Methinks it won't be as simple. Mom warned me that all of the kids on Spring Break are coming back home. Still, first hurdle overcome.

I've still been volleying messages with various folks such as the bossman, my brother and the like. The strange thing, though, is that I haven't heard from students such as Cozy or The Sisters of State in terms of my sudden departure for the next month. I don't think they're ticked off at me for supposedly abandoning them.

It looks like the Fukushima Incident may be starting to calm down, thankfully. If it is indeed doing so, then it would be the happiest example of bad timing to ever happen to me as I take off on my month-long exodus in Canada. Apparently, the pools of cooling water surrounding the rods have gone down in temperatures to those ranging from from a pleasant hot bath to less than body temperature. Good for all of us in Japan. And it would signal a much-hoped-for end to the worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl.

In a way, going back home can make me think for a while about my future. As once again, my bank account has been emaciated by the unfortunate culmination of tax season, self-imposed exile and a gouging price for a plane ticket, I'm coming to the conclusion that after teaching English for close to a quarter-century, I'm nowhere making any money that would even get me into the middle class. I'm gonna have to think hard about where and how I want to go. Still, it'll be nice to see the gang again back in Toronto. And I get to see the first day of Spring.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saturday March 19, 11:09 a.m.

If this were a normal time, I would be taking The Dancer and her family to the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. However, this is obviously not a normal time and I assume that my friends have returned to Toronto safely. Things are still stable in this neck of the woods; though there is a small amount of tension, people in my neighbourhood are taking things in stride. And Chiba has only recorded a mere fraction of a microsievert...probably as much as or even less than someone gets from a long call on a cellphone.

I've done my checking about on the Net in preparation for the trip home. For example, seeing if my bank's Shibuya branch has its money exchange counter open. I didn't see any indication of it so I'll keep myself at home and take my chances at Narita. If worse comes to worse, I can always convert my yen back in Toronto.

I finally experienced my first rolling blackout since the regimen was first started at the beginning of the week. I was just watching TV when suddenly the dark just plummeted in. Even my LED indicator lights on my appliances were gone. It wasn't exactly pitch black but it was about as dark as I'd ever seen my living room. So, I ended up just listening to a couple of CDs on my was actually quite a relaxing experience listening to The Manhattan Transfer and Misia. And strangely enough, the lights came back on after only an hour and 45 minutes of darkness (supposedly we were off for 3 hours each time). But I just turned everything off again and enjoyed the rest of one of Japan's finest songstresses. Light can indeed be forged from the dark.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Friday March 18, 12:31 p.m.

With the plane ticket purchase, the preparations for the exodus home have begun in earnest. I had my mail stopped for 30 days and have informed everybody (students, family, friends) about my plans. My mother was quite surprised at how quickly I was able to procure my ticket but my sister-in-law asked me whether there was any way I could get home earlier since she had some things in the news....and that's when I stopped her right there and told her that the US media has been going a little over the top with Fukushima. At this point, things seem to be stable...a situation that I hope will continue for at least another couple of days.

I also received a phone from The Dancer. It's ironic that this lone call would be our only contact between us this trip. But we were both remarking about the fact that folks back on the other side of the Pacific have been going into panic mode due to the somewhat overzealous media coverage. Over here, we've been keeping our eyes and ears on the screens but noone has made a run for the border although students like Mr. Swank and Mr. Jyuppie have sent their families into the Kansai region for safety.

Which is why I found my phone call with the juku boss a bit sad although not all that surprising. She asked me in her plaintive voice to not even consider but to just call up my real estate agency to cancel her guarantorship of my apartment. Of course, I can see from her point of view that if I could not return to my apartment after a month due to a massive nuclear disaster in the Kanto, then she would have to pick up the tab for my supposed desertion. But I don't think things have become nowhere near that bad. Basically, my response to her was that I heard what she said but I have no intention of canceling my guarantorship since frankly that would void my lease. I'll see how things look from Toronto before I make any moves. And if things really get that bad, I figure that the agency personnel will not be worrying about the guarantor and resident of one dilapidated apartment in Ichikawa at that stage....they will be fleeing to Osaka by that point.

For a little bit, though, I was also slightly spooked when I heard the news of transit visas through the States. To have paid so much money only to be turned back. But although my travel agent asked me about my re-entry permit (no problems there), she didn't ask me about transit visas. I asked both Speedy and The Dancer about them, but they told me that most Canadians fall under the special waiver programme between Canada and the US. And then I finally checked the official US governement site. Yep, unless I'm a Canadian going on a government assignment Stateside I don't have to worry about it. But of course the States aren't taking any chances...they're not only fingerprinting and eyeprinting now (no problems with me since we get that at Narita) but they're now pulling out the Geiger counters. Still, it's understandable.

I'm keeping my two fingers crossed for the next couple of days. I plan to head on down to Shibuya tomorrow to get my money converted into Canadian since I figure that it'll be totally nuts at Narita....or perhaps everyone will have left the country by that time.
Thursday March 17, 6:02 p.m.

Well, I pulled the trigger. I shucked out the yen and I will be going home via Delta Airlines on Sunday for the Great White North and T.O. The staff here at Speedy's could overhear me talking with the travel agent, but they took the news very calmly. I will be getting the bossman up to speed on the students within the school, and I've informed my private students about my decision. I tried to call up the juku boss but couldn't get through so I sent some e-mail to her. I am considering dropping in on her tomorrow after I finish my lone class at Speedy's and perhaps even having one last dinner at The Restauranteur's but I'll see once I've gouged out my bank account. In any case, I'm not going home too happily. I kinda feel like Captain Sisko abandoning Deep Space Nine in one of the later episodes. But I guess I can also quote General Douglas MacArthur and say "I will return".

I just looked at the TV coverage after my lesson with The Shareholder and didn't see anything that encouraged me. It didn't look like things were deteriorating but neither were they improving. And I'm not about to take any risks and find out which way the wind will blow, figuratively or literally. I'm not alone either. A lot of the foreign nationals have decided to skip town, especially the French. France even sent an entire fleet of Air France planes to pick everyone up. Locally, La Fille is even considering going back to Kagoshima to wait out the crisis.

In a way, when I return it'll feel like I'm starting things over. Small bank account, different country and maybe different students. I just hope that my 1-month moratorium will be enough to see some good come back to my adopted land.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thursday March 17, 1:02 p.m.

Well, so far I've been hearing that there may have been some progress with the water-bearing choppers. But Canada has apparently urged for an 80-km exclusion zone around the reactors, instead of the 20-km zone currently in force by the Japanese government. To give you a point of reference, Tokyo is 270 km away from Fukushima. And there is still a chance of meltdown. So my decision has still not been made.

I had contacted Yajima about the situation and he has responded and given me his good wishes. It'll be another couple of hours but I will come to sort of decision shortly after I see some TV.

The worldwide media has been glorifying the Japanese on the stoicism and grace with which they have handled the triple whammy of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. No riots, no looting. The Americans have been known as the can-do society but the Japanese can be called the make-do society. I've known about this facility of the Japanese to adapt to trying conditions but I have to admit that I'm even amazed at how well everyone in the country has been adapting to the new reality. Still, I think there are going to be several thousand people in the north who will need some counselling over the months and years.

Thursday March 17, 10:23 a.m.
One can be forgiven in this country for the fact that today is St. Patrick's Day, even though the holiday has become a favorite amongst the foreign population and even some of the Japanese here. A week ago, a lot of folks would have wondering which pub to hit in Tokyo, Dubliners or Paddy Foley's. Well, now, a lot of people are just hoping that St. Patrick and a whole lot of other saints (George, James, etc.) will smile on all of us in this country considering the current circumstances.
After the record-setting M9.0 earthquake and a massive tsunami, now we're all facing a possible nuclear disaster. Some of the reactors at Fukushima Dai-Ichi are still literally too hot to handle, although I have seen, with some relief, that the choppers have resumed water bombing.
The next few hours will be critical ones for me since not only is it St. Patrick's Day for a lot of those who are into the Green, but it is D-Day for me personally. D as in I stay put or do I pack up and go (temporarily) back to the Great White North? The past 24 hours have seen me furiously typing away on Facebook and e-mail to friends and family, talking with Mom and my sister-in-law on the phone, keeping a cold rational eye on the proceedings in Fukushima and Nagatacho, and preparing myself for flight. I'm basically looking at 2:30 today as the time of decision. The Dancer's husband has made his decision...he and the family will be staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel tonight and then head on off for home tomorrow. The Anime Court will most likely either be staying put in Toronto or fleeing to places other than Japan. The Dancer told me that the next available Air Canada flight back to the ol' hometown is Sunday the 20th apparently. Not gonna panic since, at this point, we're still far from any major dramatic movements.
Basically, I have three options about my immediate is the most ideal and one is the likeliest path. The most ideal is that the chopper water bombing actually bears fruit and that I can stay home but the most likeliest is that I will have to somehow scrounge up a ticket (probably at inflated prices...capitalism is far from dead in the airline industry) and head on out within the next few days. Option 3 is the worst-case scenario...I grab the nearest Bullet Train and flee to Osaka.
So far, the Canadian Embassy hasn't called the Red Alert...which is actually good news for me, since if Harper's Bazaar actually calls for a Canuck evac, I can guarantee there will be mayhem, even more so than now. I hear Narita has become an Ellis Island of sorts at this time.
Via Facebook, I have had my heart warmed by the fact that some of my old friends from Toronto who now live in various parts of Asia have offered me some hospitality via Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. I'm keeping all of my options open, although Mom really wants me back most Moms would.
As for Speedy, he took my news pretty well. Basically, he has a mix of the "Aw, shucks" and sho ga nai (can't be helped) attitude. It's actually the juku boss I'm a bit worried about at the moment. She sent a terse reply to my mass e-mail of yesterday stating that she would prefer me to be here and that I should call her. Well, I will...when I've made my decision.
I also got word from fellow Canadian, The Satyr. He's been lucky in that his parents have arranged flights for him for either home or England. I'm not sure what my parents can do for me, not that I'm ungrateful, but they're not exactly the most connected of people, if you know what I mean. The Dancer's father is a very go-go type and I'm sure The Satyr's parents will get on the blower to do everything they can. My parentals are very middle-class Japanese in that they will exhort their son to get back home but beyond that there's very little they can do. It's really up to me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wednesday March 16, 2:24 p.m.

I've managed to calm down to a certain extent after that flurry of e-mails back home about my possible departure. I'll have to keep my eye on the TV, though. I have yet to receive any response from my private students, though. I did get a response from the Dancer's husband and they are also weighing options.

As for my day today, I wasted a trip down to Tameike-Sanno early this morning for that student whom I'd thought wouldn't be interested in my lessons. He'd decided to try me out and had scheduled a lesson for this morning at 11. I then found out after waiting a few hours at Starbucks by the Akasaka Twin Towers that he had left a message on my machine after leaving an e-mail message yesterday that he couldn't get into town today. I had told him that I couldn't access my e-mail yesterday...sigh.

So for the first time in my time here, I had 4 entire lessons wiped out in one day.

In what has become the sign of the times, I actually bought a bento at the local Lawsons inside Tameike-Sanno Station before getting on the train back home. I have never brought home an instant lunch from a conbini for more than 5 minutes, but I got this sucker home in about 40. I knew that getting a bento in my neck of the woods would be close to impossible these days; but I may be lucky in getting a salad and some milk today.
Wednesday March 16, 1:12 p.m.

Well, just had another rather large aftershock roll through Chiba via the I-Cafe. But the big Red Alert strobing in my head is the Fukushima Nuclear Plant situation. Actually, it's starting to look more and more like the re-enactment of "The China Syndrome" with Jack Lemmon and Jane Fonda. Possible meltdowns from at least 2 of the 6 reactors and one from a CNN commentator are not impressing me. And believe me, I've been less than impressed with the government or TEPCO in their somewhat mealy-mouthed press conferences.

Then when I checked the e-mail, I got a small flood of messages from my brother all the way to The Anime Chamberlain openly wondering whether I should come home to Toronto. I'm now considering my options seriously; so much so that I have even sent my private students, Speedy and the juku boss a mass mailing about possibly running for the border. I can imagine the response I will get from Speedy about this.

Of course, leaving the city I've called home for over 16 years...even under these trying times...isn't easy for me. But I'm a pragmatist and I really don't want to be dosed with the equivalent of 100 X-ray treatments. At this time, the Canadian government hasn't sent the word for we Canucks to get out of Dodge...yet, so perhaps getting that Air Canada ticket won't be too much of a problem. But I've got my passport on me as well as a change of clothes in the bag that I usually reserve for textbooks. And I'm just about ready to withdraw a good chunk of my dwindling bank account just in case things go pear-shaped. As an alternative, I may bite the bullet and grab a Bullet to Osaka and get the plane from there.

Strangely enough, I've got friends who are visiting Japan: The Dancer and her family are in Okinawa, scheduled to return to Tokyo on Friday. The Anime Chamberlain and The Anime King are somewhere in Asia, and The Iconoclast and Automan are planning to come over in April. All these people are now weighing their options deeply.

In any case, this may go down as one of the biggest moments in my life.

Strangely enough, this is the 3rd day in a row that my neighbourhood has managed to escape a rolling blackout.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Monday March 14, 1:25 p.m.

I guess there's another "reassuring" thing that denotes some form of normality in the first post-quake weekday: Speedy and Ms. Efficiency bickering about some sort of formality. I almost regret that she'll be leaving in a couple of weeks.

Today is White Day, although I can't see how I would feel like sending chocolates right now. I'm not planning to leave my home tomorrow. The juku boss actually cancelled all classes probably for all this week. She called me up last night to say that she's got family coming in since apparently their facilities are all shut down.

Various folks back home including my sister-in-law have been keeping up a dialogue over the Net thankfully. Automan has said that he and his wife are planning to come over next month, although for obvious reasons, things may a glowing fireball from Fukushima. The Anime Chamberlain and Anime King are still coming this way along with their old compatriot, The Iconoclast. And The Dancer and her family are apparently doing OK despite having felt their very first real tremor.

The Artist should be arriving in another half hour. At this point, it seems like things on the outskirts in terms of commuting are fairly orderly if crowded.

Monday March 14, 11:37 a.m.
As for my new Monday...Tozai Line commuters were repeatedly breaking laws of spatial physics, so much so that I decided to get off one station before my usual get-off point. This was Minami-Sunamachi Station before Toyocho Station where Cozy works. One of the things about life on Tokyo subways during rush hour is that one has to go with the flow (literally) if one is to survive. Normally, I avoid rush hour like the plague but in the new reality after the most horrendous earthquake in Japanese history, I will get used to it. And in a somewhat bizarre way, I welcomed the sardine-like conditions since it was a bit of normalcy to what is, at least for the time being, a very abnormal time. Now, the subway opens to the left from my station up until Minami-Sunamachi where doors open on the right. Considering the crushed conditions, there was no way I was physically going to be able to get out in time even if I called "Orimasu!" (Getting off here!)which is what subway etiquette dictates. So I decided to get off at that station and get a bit of exercise since I got into town a full hour before Cozy's lesson.
And actually, it was the first time that I had ever gotten off at Minami-Sunamachi. As the picture shows, it's just a community of danchi apartment blocks all over. I started my first bout of conbini scavenging and searched for batteries since I figured I would need some for my portable radio and the Discman. I was able to find Type 4s for the radio at the first 7-11 I came across and then bought some Type 3s at the next one. In between, I was actually stopped by a cop from the neighbourhood koban. In a O. Henryesque twist, he actually asked me questions. They were about the commuting situation on the subway. I told him that things were basically filled to the brim underground.
The exercise did me good and I actually even had time to have some coffee at the shop near Cozy's office. Of course, Cozy and I started our talk on the events of Friday. Cozy and his wife are actually gonna be moving apartments tomorrow. He's dreading the situation of another major aftershock hitting Tokyo during the move.
Things were still pretty crazy on the Tozai although the drain unplugged by the time we reached Otemachi Station. It was looking downright normal by the time I reached my transfer station of Iidabashi. I was waiting a bit longer than usual for the Oedo train since the sign said that there would be a 6-7 minute wait between trains...a bit longer than the usual morning rush. But I got into Speedys with plenty of time since The Artist won't be coming in until 2 p.m. today. And I got word from Mr. Swank via the bossman that he has cancelled his lesson today. I had been fully expecting that since he's the big guy for one of the nation's companies producing sea barrier tetrapods. He will be busy for the next several days, I imagine.
So it'll be a light day for me. Cozy, The Artist and then Kirk to wrap up tonight. I heard beforehand from the bossman that Miss Genki will be busy with the year-end financial stuff at her company...and probably other matters as well.
As for me, I'm still concerned about those faulty nuclear plants and that supposed major aftershock.
Ah, the McDonalds picture? That is the branch that I usually go to by Toyocho Station. Luckily, I woke up early enough to have a proper breakfast at home. As you can see, there's quite a line for those Sausage McMuffins. And even passing by the supermarket on the walk over to Speedy's, there was a mass of shoppers waiting to get in and hoard up on stuff. Get used to the new consumer reality!

Monday March 14, 11:25 a.m.

The sun rises again on Ichikawa in my neighbourhood at the ripe time of 6 a.m. in the morning. Considering the past 72 hours, I think all of us in the Kanto can be grateful that at least we've got a decent Monday going up to 18 C.

However, the trains are operating at much lower frequency due to the government order for all of us to conserve energy. And this showed in today's rush hour...which was truly a crowded one. The shot to the right was at Minami Sunamachi Station on the platform on the Tozai Line. This was at 7 a.m. and it

was packed to the gills. Normally, this would be the case at the peak of rush hour at 8 a.m. but we commute to the beat of a different drum for the time being.

Not only are we conserving energy but the government pulled the unprecedented feat of formulating and executing new policy in less than 12 hours. Rolling blackouts have been instituted all over the Kanto and Tohoku areas starting this morning. In the Kanto, we've been divided into 5 areas of which Ichikawa belongs to Group 2. We were supposed to be undergoing our blackout...twice...from 9:20 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then again from 6:20 p.m. to 10 p.m. But I heard from Cozy (yes, duty still calls) that the blackouts have been cancelled for the time being. Still keeping my eyes and ears open, though.